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Coalition of Immokalee Workers Brings Farmworker Movement to the Streets August 7, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Florida, Immigration, Labor.
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Published on Saturday, August 6, 2011 by In These Times

  by Michelle Chen

The hot summer has brought in a bumper crop of food activism from coast to coast. For the past few weeks, a group of Florida farm workers has embarked on a marketing coup that challenges the country’s food business giants by educating consumers about exploitation in the tomato industry.

(Image: Coalition of Immokalee Workers) The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has made a name for itself by using creative consumer-driven campaigns to promote fairer wages and working conditions for tomato harvesters, a workforce fueled by Latino migrant laborers. Though corporate resistance has been formidable, the group has scored a series of victories over the past few years over the likes of Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway. Partnering with consumer groups and fair-food activists, the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food seeks to educate people about the brutal labor that goes into each tomato.

Farmworkers’ backbreaking toil will be spotlighted on some of the trendiest sidewalks in Manhattan on Friday, with rallies at Trader Joe’s stores in the Village and Chelsea. The actions follow a similar campaign on the West Coast in which protesters in San Francisco and Berkeley wielded paper-bag picket signs and marched through the Mission District calling on drivers to “Honk for Farm Worker Justice.” The CIW now counts a number of religious leaders and gourmet food activist Barry Estabrook among its allies.

The Coalition says its multi-pronged struggle involves “all the elements of our country’s food industry,” from the folks hauling baskets all the way up to the florescent-lit supermarket aisle. Most importantly, the organization banks on the political leverage of consumers to push stores and suppliers to abide by ethical standards. With an active membership of several thousand, the workers themselves participate as well through organizing and educating people on “humanizing our farm labor system.”

The workers’ key demand, an additional penny per pound of tomatoes picked, seems a tiny cost for consumers and producers to absorb, given the workers’ long hours, arduous working conditions and their vulnerability to maltreatment and even slave labor. The pennies do add up for laborers, potentially boosting yearly earnings by several thousand dollars. (Typical wages amount to less than $12,000 annually, according to the Coalition, and after years of virtually stagnant wages, “a worker today must pick more than 2.25 tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.”)

CIW’s summer Truth Tour demonstrations, which focus on big-name grocers, have been decried by the right-wing blogosphere as a “Prototypical Example of Alinsky Tactics and Smug Self-Immortalization.” Translation: an effective protest action.

The campaign puts Trader Joe’s hip, liberal brand in a bind: the company complained publicly in May that while it was willing to comply with CIW’s demands in general, specific provisions of the draft agreement were “overreaching” and “improper.” CIW responded with lengthy point-by-point rebuttals and declared, ‘It seems that the longer Trader Joe’s resists the Fair Food movement, the more its leadership — from the CEO to the public relations department — is determined to tarnish the company’s reputation as an ethical, progressive grocer.”

The organizing model evokes interesting historical comparisons with another wave of farm labor activist in the 1960s and 1970s led by United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez, which pioneered union organizing in agriculture. Yet the UFW has lost political salience over the years, as working conditions have deteriorated.

The younger, nimbler CIW is not a union, but in many ways neither needs nor desires the conventional union structure. The fluid, precarious nature of migrant labor is a barrier to movement building, yet at the same time, the tomato industry’s severe consolidation across the supply chain provide fertile ground for focused, visible campaigns that mobilize consumers and workers in tandem.

Last fall, Kari Lydersen reported that faced with pressure from consumers and workers, some of Florida’s big growers had finally agreed to the penny-per-pound wage subsidy. Soon after, the Coalition clinched a groundbreaking deal with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, which bound major growers to a contract that includes “a strict code of conduct, a cooperative complaint resolution system, a participatory health and safety program, and a worker-to-worker education process.” The agreement, estimated to cover more than 90 percent of Florida’s tomato industry, helps close a crucial gap in the chain, since retailers and restaurants agreeing to the penny raise could guarantee that the benefit would trickle down to workers.

The enforcement mechanism within the binding agreement is designed to keep growers and suppliers in check, using an outside nonprofit group to monitor compliance, so that, at least in theory, any grower that violates the code won’t be able to sell to retailers also bound to the agreement. CIW organizer Lucas Benitez told Naples Daily News that employers have to answer to both their buyers and their workers:

With this agreement, we will be working with growers to identify and eliminate abuses through a cooperative complaint investigation and resolution system, with real consequences for violations, including zero tolerance for forced labor.

In the absence of strong government regulation, the Coalition’s strategy aims not just to force employers to obey labor laws but also strive for decent working standards overall, in order to turn Florida’s tomato industry from a bastion of poverty into, in Benitez’s words, “a model of social accountability for the 21st century.”

Whether such industrial change can be wrought by a motley alliance of some of the country’s poorest workers, the biggest food brands, and the savviest customers, has yet to be seen. But if a bunch of migrant farm workers can get Manhattan hipsters to think seriously about who picked their salad this summer, they’re on the road to victory.

© 2011 In These Times

Obama mimics Bush on the border fence May 14, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Racism.
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Roger’s comment: the “Berlin Wall” constructed along the US/Mexican border is a perfect metaphor for the capitalist economic model, where capital rules and human labor is its servant.  Under the NAFTA (free trade) agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada, the free movement of capital across international borders was facilitated.  This allowed capital to make use of cheaper unorganized and unprotected labor in Mexico and to evade environmental restrictions.  One of the major consequences for Mexican farming was that thousands of small farmers were wiped out by the influx of US agribusiness.  These are the very same campesinos who are desperate to cross the border into the US in search of economic salvation.  The Wall is the other side of the coin of the free trade agreement, designed to keep them out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011 11:01 ET

War Room
By Justin Elliott
border

Reuters/Tomas Bravo
U.S. workers build a section of the Mexico-U.S. border wall near the Jeronimo-Santa Teresa border crossing in Chihuahua.

President Obama traveled to El Paso, Texas, this week and delivered an immigration speech that was widely viewed as an appeal to Hispanic voters.

While there’s virtually no prospect of comprehensive immigration reform getting through the current Congress, the Obama administration has been emphasizing enforcement and border security. One under-examined aspect of the administration’s policy is the continuation of Clinton- and Bush-era efforts to build a physical — and virtual — fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. In El Paso, Obama actually touted the fact that his administration had completed the fence. So we thought it was a good time to check in on the status of the fence, whether it’s working, and what’s planned for the future.

Billions of dollars have been spent in recent years on a physical wall and the so-called virtual fence, and the efforts have been criticized by some who live on the border on human rights and environmental grounds.

Lee Maril, professor of sociology at East Carolina University, recently published “The Fence,” a study of U.S. policy on the border going back to the Clinton administration. Obama, Maril told me in an interview this week, has largely followed the policy conceptions of the Bush administration when it comes to the border fence. The administration is poised to plunk down hundreds of millions of dollars on high-tech sensors and the like, in the latest costly iteration of the virtual fence. What follows is a transcript of our conversation edited for length and clarity.

 

I think a lot of people assume there already is a fence or wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. What actually exists on the border right now?

Most people who haven’t been to the border imagine it as sort of a straight line. But it’s 2,000 miles, much of which is very rough terrain, including high-elevation areas, the Rio Grande River delta, and canyons. There are two kinds of fences that have been built. One is nuts-and-bolts, concrete and rebar. It’s in pieces and covers about 650 miles of the border. The rest of the border is not covered by any fence that would stop anyone. Geography does the stopping. In places it’s barbed wire, and in places there is no fence at all.

The virtual fence is the second kind of fence that is sometimes discussed. That began with ISIS ["Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System"] in 1998 and ended with a project by Boeing that was recently killed. The virtual fence is an attempt to use high technology to interdict drug loads, catch alleged terrorists, and catch undocumented immigrants. The virtual fence never worked. It didn’t work when it was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration, and the company that originally worked on it, L-3 Communications, wasted about $250 million. It didn’t work under Boeing either. They walked away with about $1 billion.

How was the virtual fence supposed to work?

It started under the Clinton administration as an attempt to build a sophisticated system of towers that would be linked with computers, satellite up-links, surface radar, and all kinds of fancy cameras. That ran from 1998 to 2000, and it didn’t work. Then the program changed names several times and wound up in 2005 being called SBInet, or Security Border Initiative network. That’s when Boeing was invited on as the so-called systems integrator. They were supposed to come up with a total solution to plan, design and build the virtual fence for the entire border. They built only about ten sensor towers and fifteen communications towers, but according to the Government Accountability Office reports none of them ever worked. In my opinion they wasted more than $1 billion of taxpayer money.

Where has Obama been on this?

The original policy was clearly defined by the Bush administration and by Congress. It was formed immediately after the immigration field hearings in the summer of 2006. The virtual and physical fences had three justifications under the Bush administration, which were then carried on into the Obama administration. The goals were to decrease the number of undocumented workers, to increase the drug interdictions, and to stop alleged terrorists. They were never refuted by Obama. That plan was wholeheartedly accepted by the Obama administration. Under Obama we saw the completion of the project to build about 650 miles of physical wall that had been funded by Congress. When I heard Obama’s speech in El Paso, what I saw missing was any kind of admittance that the virtual fence was a miserable failure and the taxpayers had lost all this money.

You spent a lot of time on the border, looking at the fence and interviewing residents and border agents. What did you hear?

They tell you a variety of things depending on who you talk to. I can tell you that the concrete fence is not consistent. I went to Cameron County, Texas, where Brownsville is, and there the fence is 20 feet tall with a 5-foot base that goes 8 feet into the ground, with spaced steel bars at the top. Then I went to the University of Texas at Brownsville, and because they litigated against the Department of Homeland Security, they have a fence that is about 9 feet tall, chain link, painted green, and surrounded by shrubbery. That runs for half a mile. What that tells me is that regardless of what DHS wanted to do, it was always buffered by the local political situation.

So after Obama’s speech, are you expecting an extension of the fence?

They just let out bids for $750 million, just for Arizona, to basically do what they said they were going to do with the last virtual wall — for the same kinds of equipment, including sensors, scope trucks, plus some newer hardware. It’s called the Alternative Southwest Border Technology Plan. I wouldn’t call it a “Plan,” I’d call it an approach. What I’ve heard unofficially is that one of the primary contractors who is very interested is Raytheon. So even more money, another $750 million, has now been put into it and already been bid out and the public has not yet been notified of who is getting the bid. It’s very unclear if this equipment is going to be used as part of a virtual wall, or as extra equipment to supplement the concrete wall. This is just for Arizona. What DHS is really saying is that after eleven years, they still haven’t gotten it right.

Has the fence worked?

There are three points. The first is that it has not in any way I can clearly see — based on the border patrol’s own statistics — limited the amount of drugs coming into this country. Obama is correct when he cites the statistic that there have been a third more drugs caught this year than last. But the drug cartels are just taking that as overhead. They’re still bringing in and getting across the same amount of drugs. My informants in law enforcement tell me the best way to assess the volume of drugs is the price on the street. The price on the street suggests there has been no change with respect to cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. The traffickers have become very innovative in finding ways to cross the wall which at first looks impenetrable. That includes catapults, tunnels and metal ramps that they assemble and disassemble very quickly.

Second, the fence certainly has seemed to affect the number of undocumented workers. It’s much harder to cross the border than it used to be because of the fence, and the increase in border agents. There is no question in that. That said, we’re in the middle of a recession, so it’s very difficult to see what will happen when we come out of the recession when it comes to the economic “pull” factors. We still have a very large number of people in Mexico and south of Mexico who can directly benefit by coming across illegally because they don’t have a lot of other options.

The third part — which Obama didn’t mention in El Paso and has been forgotten in this whole discussion — is terrorism. I can find no known public record of any terrorist ever being stopped since 2005-06 when construction of the wall began. That was one of the three major reasons that the wall was built. What my law enforcement informants tell me is that a terrorist group would be foolish to risk bringing someone in from Mexico when they can come in from so many other places with false documents.

  • Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

 

 

Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Taxes While GE Paid Nothing April 24, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Immigration.
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Our guest blogger is Mike Elk, a freelance labor journalist and third generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him for more updates on twitter at @MikeElk.

This past month, there was much outrage over the fact that General Electric, despite making $14.2 billion in profits, paid zero U.S. taxes in 2010. General Electric actually received tax credits of $3.2 billion from American taxpayers.

At the same time that General Electric was not paying taxes, many undocumented immigrants, who are typically accused of taking advantage of the system while not contributing to it by many on the right, paid $11.2 billion in taxes. A new study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.2 billion in personal income taxes last year. The study also estimates that nearly half of all undocumented immigrants pay income taxes.

ITEP bases its figures of what immigrants pay taxes based on the following factors:

  • Sales tax is automatic, so it is assumed that unauthorized residents would pay sales tax at similar rates to U.S. citizens and legal immigrants with similar income levels.
  • Similar to sales tax, property taxes are hard to avoid, and unauthorized immigrants are assumed to pay the same property taxes as others with the same income level. ITEP assumes that most unauthorized immigrants are renters, and only calculates the taxes paid by renters.
  • Income tax contributions by the unauthorized population are less comparable to other populations because many unauthorized immigrants work “off the books” and income taxes are not automatically withheld from their paychecks. ITEP conservatively estimates that 50 percent of unauthorized immigrants are paying income taxes.

While it’s impossible to estimate exactly how much in taxes undocumented immigrants paid, it is clear that undocumented immigrants are paying more taxes than General Electric, which paid absolutely nothing. This raises the question of who really is leaching off the American system: undocumented immigrants who pay their taxes and are typically too afraid of being deported to receive public assistance or corporations that pay nothing while receiving billions in credits

‘They Kill Alex’ September 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Iraq and Afghanistan, Latin America, Peace, War.
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by Chris Hedges

Carlos Arredondo, a native Costa Rican, stands in a parking lot of a Holiday Inn in Portland, Maine, next to his green Nissan pickup truck. The truck, its tailgate folded down, carries a flag-draped coffin and is adorned with pictures of his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, 20, a Marine killed in Iraq in 2004. The truck and a trailer he pulls with it have become a mobile shrine to his boy. He drives around the country, with the aid of donations, evoking a mixture of sympathy and hostility. There are white crosses with the names of other boys killed in the war. Combat boots are nailed to the side of the display. There is a wheelchair, covered in colored ribbons, fixed to the roof of the cab. There is Alex’s military uniform and boots, poster-size pictures of the young Marine shown on the streets of Najaf, in his formal Marine portrait, and then lying, his hands folded in white gloves, in his coffin. A metal sign on the back of the truck bears a gold star and reads: “USMC L/CPL ALEXANDER S. ARREDONDO.”

“This is what happens every week to some family in America,” says Carlos. “This is what war does. And this is the grief and pain the government does not want people to see.”

Alex, from a working-class immigrant family, was lured into the military a month before Sept. 11, 2001. The Marine recruiters made the usual appeals to patriotism, promised that he would be trained for a career, go to college and become a man. They included a $10,000 sign-on bonus. Alex was in the Marine units that invaded Iraq. His father, chained to the news reports, listening to the radio and two televisions at the same time, was increasingly distraught. “I hear nothing about my son for days and days,” he says. “It was too much, too much, too much for parents.”   

Alex, in August 2004, was back in Iraq for a second tour. In one of his last phone calls, Alex told him: “Dad, I call you because, to say, you know, we’ve been fighting for many, many days already, and I want to tell you that I love you and I don’t want you to forget me.” His father answered: “Of course I love you, and I don’t want-I never forget you.” The last message the family received was an e-mail around that time which read: “Watch the news online. Check the news, and tell everyone that I love them.”

Twenty days later, on Aug. 25, a U.S. government van pulled up in front of Carlos’ home in Hollywood, Fla. It was Carlos’ 44th birthday and he was expecting a birthday call from Alex. “I saw the van and thought maybe Alex had come home to surprise me for my birthday or maybe they were coming to recruit my other son, Brian,” he says. Three Marine officers climbed out of the van. One asked, “Are you Carlos Arredondo?” He answered “yes.”

“I’m sorry, we’re here to notify you about the death of Lance Cpl. Arredondo,” one of the officers told him. Alex was the 968th soldier or Marine to be killed in the Iraq war.

“I tried to process this in my head,” Carlos says. “I never hear that. I remember how my body felt. I got a rush of blood to my body. I felt like it’s the worst thing in my life. It is my worst fear. I could not believe what they were telling me.”

Carlos turned and ran into the house to find his mother, who was in the kitchen making him a birthday cake. “I cried, ‘Mama! Mama! They are telling me Alex got killed! Alex got killed! They kill Alex! They kill Alex! They kill Alex!” His mother crumbled in grief. Carlos went to the large picture of his son in the living room and held it. Carlos asked the Marines to leave several times over the next 20 minutes, but the Marines refused, saying they had to wait for his wife. “I did this because I was in denial. I think if they leave none of this will happen.” Crazed and distraught with grief, the father went into his garage and took out five gallons of gasoline and a propane torch. He walked past the three Marines in their dress blues and began to smash the windows of the government van with a hammer.

“I went into the van,” he says. “I poured gasoline on the seats. I pour gasoline on the floor and in the gas tank. I was, like, looking for my son. I was screaming and yelling for him. I remember that one day he left in a van and now he’s not there. I destroy everything. The pain I feel is the pain of what I learned from war. I was wearing only socks and no shoes. I was wearing shorts. The fumes were powerful and I could not breathe no more, even though I broke the windows.”

As Carlos stepped out of the van, he ignited the propane torch inside the vehicle. It started a fire that “threw me from the driver’s seat backwards onto the ground.” His clothes caught fire. It felt “like thousands of needles stabbing into my body.” He ran across the street and fell onto the grass. His mother followed him and pulled off his shirt and socks, which were on fire, as he screamed “Mama! Mama! My feet are burning! My feet are burning!” The Marines dragged him away and he remembers one of them saying, “The van is going to blow! The van is going to blow!” The van erupted in a fireball and the rush of hot air, he says, swept over him. The Marines called a fire truck and an ambulance. Carlos sustained second- and third-degree burns over 26 percent of his body. As I talk to him in the Portland parking lot he shows me the burn scars on his legs. The government chose not to prosecute him.

“I wake up in the hospital two days later and I was tied with tubes in my mouth,” he says. “When they take the tubes out I say, ‘I want to be with my son. I want to be with my son.’ Somebody was telling me my son had died. I get very emotional. I kept saying ‘I want to be with my son’ and they think I want to commit suicide.”

He had no health insurance. His medical bills soon climbed to $55,000. On Sept. 2, 2004, Carlos, transported in a stretcher, attended his son’s wake at the Rodgers Funeral Home in Jamaica Plain, Mass. He lifted himself, with the help of those around him, from his stretcher, and when he reached his son’s open casket he kissed his child. “I held his head and when I put my hands in the back of his head I felt the huge hole where the sniper bullet had come out,” he says. “I climbed into the casket. I lay on top of my son. I apologized to him because I did not do enough to avoid this.”   

Arredondo began to collect items that memorialized his son’s life. He tacked them to his truck. A funeral home in Boston donated a casket to the display. He began to attend anti-war events, at times flying the American flag upside down to signal distress. He has taken his shrine to the Mall in Washington, D.C., and Times Square in New York City. He has traveled throughout the country presenting to the public a visual expression of death and grief. He has placed some of his son’s favorite childhood toys and belongings in the coffin, including a soccer ball, a pair of shoes, a baseball and a Winnie the Pooh. The power of his images, which force onlookers to confront the fact that the essence of war is death, has angered some who prefer to keep war sanitized and wrapped in the patriotic slogans of glory, honor and heroism. Three years ago vandals defaced his son’s gravestone.

“I don’t speak,” he says. “I show people war. I show them the caskets they are not allowed to see. If people don’t see what war does they don’t feel it. If they don’t feel it they don’t care.”

Military recruiters, who often have offices in high schools, prey on young men like Alex, who was first approached when he was 16. They cater to their insecurities, their dreams and their economic deprivation. They promise them what the larger society denies them. Those of Latino descent and from divorced families, as Alex was, are especially vulnerable. Alex’s brother Brian was approached by the military, which suggested that if he enlisted he could receive $60,000 in signing bonuses and more than $27,000 in payments for higher education. The proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, is designed to give undocumented young people a chance at citizenship provided they attend college-not usually an option for poor, often poorly educated and undocumented Latino youths who are prohibited from receiving Pell grants-for at least two years, or enlist and serve in the military. The military helped author the pending act and is lobbying for it. Twelve percent of Army enlistees are Hispanic, and this percentage is expected to double by 2020 if the current rate of recruitment continues. And once they are recruited, these young men and women are trained to be killers, sent to wars that should never be fought and returned back to their families often traumatized and broken and sometimes dead.

Alex told Carlos in their last conversation there was heavy fighting in Najaf. Alex usually asked his father not to “forget” him, but now, increasingly in the final days of his life, another word was taking the place of forget. It was forgive. He felt his father should not forgive him for what he was doing in Iraq. He told his father, “Dad, I hope you are proud of what I’m doing. Don’t forgive me, Dad.” The sentence bewildered his father. “Oh my God, how can I forgive you? … I love you, you’re my son, very proud, you’re my son.”

“I thought, when he died, my God, he has killed somebody,” Carlos says quietly as he readied for an anti-war march organized by Veterans for Peace. “He feels guilty. If he returned home his mind would be destroyed. His heart would be torn apart. It is not normal to kill. How can they do this? How can they take our children?”

© 2010 TruthDig.com

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

When Will We All Need to Carry Identity Papers? September 1, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism.
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Published on Monday, August 30, 2010 by CommonDreams.org

by Jerry Lanson

Once again, what we don’t know about the erosion of rights in this country can be as bad as what we do.

While Americans debate and litigate the Arizona law authorizing search and seizure of anyone police “reasonably suspect” to be an illegal immigrant, U.S. immigration officials on trains and buses up to 100 miles south of the Canadian border are confronting and sometimes strip-searching dark-skinned passengers whose only “crime” may be that they bought a public-transportation ticket to travel within the United States, The New York Times reports.

It’s part of what some consider the new and improved border patrols to protect “the homeland” from potential terrorists. No matter that the kind of people being stopped, The Times reports, include an 60-year-old Ecuadoran-born U.S. citizen who carries a passport while visiting her sister in the Midwest because she’s been stopped before and hassled without it. No matter that it includes a Taiwanese-born PhD student who, two days after delivering a paper at a Chicago conference, was taken from a train — one that had never crossed any borders — in Batavia, N.Y., strip-searched in a detention center and held, facing detention, because his visa had expired. No matter that a 21-year-old Long Island high school graduate was taken from the Lake Shore Limited in Rochester, N.Y., held for three weeks while her mother frantically tried to reach her and released at night at a rural Texas gas station.

These are not rumors. They are true stories, reported and told by The New York Times. They smack of overt racial profiling: How many blue-eyed Swedes and fair-skinned Russians do you think have been stopped on the trains and buses, whether they are gangsters, terrorists or simply PhD students? And they raise chilling reminders of World War II movies in which Nazi soldiers would walk down the aisles of trains looking for Jews.

“It’s turned into a police state on the northern border,” Cary M. Jensen, director of international services for the University of Rochester told The Times. He said foreign students, scholars and parents all have been questioned and, in some cases, jailed because the patrol did not recognize their legal status, the paper reports.

As I said, some Americans, frightened by our decade of war and fearful of anyone “different,” will applaud the newfound vigilance of immigration officials. Some, no doubt, were among the tens of thousands who flocked to the Lincoln Memorial this weekend to hear calls that America return to a more honorable time when we didn’t have to worry about foreigners (read non-white foreigners) crossing our borders. Just when that was I’m not sure since we are a nation founded by the poor and persecuted.

What the Tea Party folks may not be thinking is that this is how police states start. I wonder how they’d feel as white Americans (and the Tea Party is white) if police in Mexico pulled them off a train and threw them in jail because they’d forgotten to carry identity papers?

As for the rest of us, perhaps it’s time to do more than yawn and turn on that new flat screen TV to catch pre-season football. My father fled Hitler’s Germany on foot in 1935, walking through the mountains into what was then Czechoslovakia. If he taught me one thing it was this: What happened there can happen anywhere. That is why even as an American Army vet and longtime U.S. citizen, he never let his passport expire. He was always prepared to move on.

War and fear erode a country’s moral compass and distort its sense of just action. Subtly for most, we’ve lived in a state of both for nearly a decade. And in the process — a little domestic wire-tapping here, a few false arrests of foreign-born there — we’ve begun to accept the significant erosion of the very principles on which this country was founded: its openness, its acceptance of difference, and its welcoming of those with little in their wallets, but with an ethic of hard work and a can-doism that’s always allowed this country to be inventive and thrive.

These were captured in the Emma Lazarus poem taught to all school children and mounted at the Statue of Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Be sure to tell those huddled masses not to ride the buses or the Lake Shore Limited routes from Chicago to New York. In the Buffalo sector alone, the border patrol reports arresting 1,050  on trains, buses and the stations of both in the six months between October 2007 and April 2008, The New York Times reports. That’s roughly six people a day.

The Buffalo sector didn’t say how many people were questioned and let go. Or how many of those arrests proved false.

You may shrug. Not your issue. I hope not. Me? I’ll keep my passport current.

Jerry Lanson is an associate professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston.

List of cities boycotting or condemning Arizona June 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism.
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www.votolatino.org, May 13, 2010 

Below is a list of cities who have passed (or are considering passing) boycotts on business in Arizona or have condemned SB 1070.  Please comment and leave a source on this story if there are more cities not listed that have (or are considering) resolutions.

San Francisco

  • San Francisco supervisors, on a 10-1 vote, approved a nonbinding resolution that calls for a boycott of Arizona-based businesses. It asks for, but does not demand, that city departments refrain from entering into new contracts or extending existing ones with companies headquartered in Arizona, unless severing those ties would result in significant costs to the city or violate other laws. (via SF Gate)

Los Angeles

  • The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-1 to stop doing business in Arizona unless the state’s tough new immigration law is repealed.  The city does about $52 million worth of business with Arizona companies, but it’s likely that only about $8 million worth of contracts can be terminated. (via NPR News)

Milwaukee, WI

  • The Milwaukee Common Council Tuesday (5/4) failed to act on a resolution calling for the city to boycott companies based in Arizona.  The council sent the measure back to committee. Alderman Robert Puente said his colleagues need to further study the Arizona law. (via WUWM)

Austin, TX

  • The resolution, proposed by Council Member Mike Martinez, calls for ending all business-related travel to Arizona by city employees, unless it is related to police investigations, providing humanitarian aid or protecting Austinites’ health and safety. (via Austin American Statesman)

West Hollywood, CA

  • The council voted 5-0 Monday night to approve the boycott. The action immediately suspends official travel to Arizona and calls for developing official sanctions. (via CBS2)

Boston, MA

  • As the City Council passed a resolution urging that Boston cut business ties with Arizona, Menino said it was important to send “a message’’ that the city disagrees with that state’s response to illegal immigration. (via Boston.com)

Oakland, CA

  • The council voted 7-0 Tuesday in favor of the boycott. It calls on city officials to review existing contracts with Arizona-based businesses and not enter into any new ones. It also says staff should not travel to the state on official city business. (via Fresno Bee)

St. Paul, MN

  • Mayor Chris Coleman is ordering city departments to no longer travel to conferences in the state of Arizona. (via My Fox 9)

Washington D.C.

  • Responding to Arizona’s new immigration law, the resolution requests that the city government and the employee pension fund “divest’ from all Arizona state and municipal bonds and ban city workers from traveling to that state on official business.  The resolution, which will be voted on at a later date, does not appear to prevent the city from doing business with Arizona-based companies, as some Hispanic activists had proposed. (via Washington Post)

New York City

  • New York’s City Council will consider a resolution calling for a boycott of all things Arizona. Ydanis Rodrigues, a Manhattan Democrat, filed the non-binding resolution Wednesday, a council aide confirmed. (via WSJ)

Boulder, CO

  • Employees of the City of Boulder will no longer be traveling to Arizona for business, City Manager Jane Brautigam announced, as a show of the city’s opposition to the recent immigration legislation passed in that state. (via Examiner)

Seattle, WA

  • Seattle’s City Council unanimously passed the Boycott Arizona Resolution, directing departments not to send employees to the Grand Canyon State and to refrain from doing new business with firms in Arizona in protest of the tragic new law. (via Examiner)

Brownsville, TX

  • During their Tuesday evening meeting, the city commission voted unanimously to pass a resolution against Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070. (via Valley Central)

Hartford, CT

  • That until the repeal of SB 1070, the City of Hartford shall not engage in any discretionary travel to Arizona and when applicable and without conflicting with any laws, the City of Hartford shall not engage in any contract for goods or services with any Arizona-based company. the Court of Common Council urges all public and private universities with campuses in Hartford to decline invitations to any sports tournaments in Arizona (via L. E. Cotto and City of Hartford Resolution)

Coachella, CA

  • The Coachella City Council formally opposed Arizona’s new immigration law Wednesday night. (via Desert Sun)

El Paso, TX

  • The city’s resolution only condemned Arizona, but counselors added a boycott at last minute and approved the measure. (via News Channel 9)

Columbus, OH

  • Mayor Michael B. Coleman has banned city workers from traveling to Arizona on government business, a decision that plunged Columbus yesterday deep into the nation’s emotional debate over illegal immigration. (via The Columbus Dispatch)

Pedagogy of the Oppressor: Arizona’s Racism to the Top May 24, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Immigration, Racism.
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Published on Monday, May 24, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Jesse Hagopian

The interests of the oppressors lie in “changing the consciousness of the oppressed, not the situation which oppresses them.”-Paulo Freire, quoting Simone de Beauvoir, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

We should be teaching these kids that this is the land of opportunity, and, if they work hard, they can achieve their dreams, and not teach them that they’re oppressed.– Arizona’s Superintendent of Public schools Tom Horne defending HB  2281 that bans ethnic studies programs from the Arizona Public Schools.   

A divide deeper than the Grand Canyon separates the truth from Superintendent Horne’s justification for outlawing ethnic studies in Arizona. 

With the overall unemployment rate at 9.9 percent, the Black unemployment rate at 16.5 percent, and the Hispanic unemployment rate at 12.5 percent, the idea of working hard and getting ahead is a fast fading dream. Put in the context of Arizona’s recently ratified SB 1070-which codifies racial profiling into state law by compelling police to demand papers of anyone they “suspect” may be undocumented-Arizona’s banning of ethnic studies programs must be seen as an attempt to erase past lessons that would aid in current struggles against oppression.   

Call it Arizona’s 4 R’s curriculum: Reading, ‘Righting, ‘Rithmatic, and Racism.  

Horne’s primary target for his 4 R’s curriculum is the Tucson Unified School District’s popular Mexican-American studies department.  One of his primary objections to the program is their use of Paulo Freire’s classic text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which argues against the “banking” model of education that perpetuates oppressions by muting creativity and critical thinking in a mechanical process where the teacher “deposits” facts that are to be memorized without any intrinsic value or connection to the students’ lives.  Freire posits that liberating education consists of a problem-posing method that helps students become “critical co-investigators in a dialogue with the teacher.”

The one claim of Superintendent Horne’s that we know must be true is his assertion that he has read Pedagogy of the Oppressed-judging by the way he has mastered the tactics of tyranny detailed by Freire.  Arizona’s HB 2281 specifically forbids classes that:

1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.  2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.  3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.  4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

The first point leaves me confused. The primary unit where revolution enters the U.S. history curriculum is during the study of the American Revolution. When kids begin studying the Declaration of Independence in their seventh grade social studies class, is a teacher’s job now at risk if they fail to whiteout the section that reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government”?

The second point is tragicomedy, since the SB 1070 and HB 2281 themselves are designed to promote resentment against Latinos by first making anyone with brown skin a potential suspect and then denying Arizonians access to education about Latino ethnicity. 

The third point erroneously assumes that ethnic studies programs can only benefit the culture that is the focus of the curriculum.  The Texas State Board of Education’s recent ratification of curriculum changes to their textbooks  (which have long been used as an industry standard for the rest of the country), deleting references to Harriet Tubman and inserting references to freemarketeer Thomas Freedman, only punctuated the fact that America’s pupils are in desperate need of courses that have not been whitewashed by conservative ideologues.

Point four is just some bedsheet-wearing-burning-cross-on-the-lawn-heckuva-job-Brownie, style racism. Superintendent Horne conflates ethnic solidarity with what he calls “ethnic chauvinism” in an effort to deny students access to the history of people of color. As the great Chicano union organizer César Chávez reminded us, “Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” In fact, a Wikipedia entry on ethnic chauvinism should be added to describe Horne’s support of the Arizona Department of Education’s recent decision to remove teachers whose spoken English is deemed to be heavily accented or ungrammatical from classes for students still learning English.

As Kim Dominguez, a graduate of the Tucson Public Schools’ Mexican American Raza Studies program, told the news show Democracy Now!, “Although Tom Horne has a lot of allegations about what the program is and what the classes do, he’s never visited a classroom, he’s never had a conversation with any of the students or the alumni…I think that if anything is promoted in the classes, it’s solidarity among humanity.”

Solidarity, however, is exactly what HB2281 wants to prohibit-because proponents don’t want a growing Mexican population to benefit from finding common political cause.

Here is what the apartheid state of Arizona doesn’t want its students to know: In the 1960s and 70s, people of color forged a common cause that radically altered the educational landscape in America.   

One of the highpoints of struggle for the Chicano movement on public schooling came in March of 1968 when students walked out of five high schools in East Los Angeles, in a protest described by the Los Angeles Times as “a week and a half of walkouts, speeches, sporadic lawbreaking, arrests, demands, picketing, sympathy demonstrations, sit-ins, police tactical alerts, and emergency sessions of the school board.” The demands of these students-most of which were won-included a citizens review board, the hiring of Chicano personnel in schools with majority Chicano enrollment, and authorizing the citizen board to develop bilingual and bicultural programs based on school-community partnership. Dropout rates declined dramatically, and the East Los Angeles walkouts became a model for Chicano activists across the Southwest. 

This movement helped pressure the U.S. government to conduct a Commission on Civil Rights from1968-1972 that provided the most detailed survey yet made of Mexican-American education.  The Mexican-American Education Study made a special analysis of schooling in the Southwest and revealed, as Meyer Winberg points out in his book, A Chance to Learn, 

…the essential continuity of Mexican-American education in the United States: (1) a high degree of segregation, (2) an extremely low academic achievement, (3) a predominance of exclusionary practices by schools, and (4) a discriminatory use of public finance.   

In fact, Arizona’s ethnic studies program itself was originally created to help resolve a race-discrimination lawsuit against Tucson public schools.  

Today, even as this month marks the 56th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education meant to strike down segregated schooling, the proportion of students of color who go to integrated schools has dropped to its lowest level since 1968.  The Urban Institute reported in 2005 that 70 percent of emergent bilingual students are concentrated in just 10 percent of schools, usually in urban poor areas.

But instead of working on legislation to address the racism and inequity in the education system, Arizona state legislators are now proposing SB 1097 that would effectively transform administrators and teachers into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents by obligating them to determine the legal status of students and their families.  If this bill passes the Arizona House of Representatives (it was already passed by the Arizona State Senate on March 31) it will no longer be enough to give a student detention in the principal’s office– educators will be asked to send their kids to an ICE detention cell to await deportation.

As radical education theorist Henry Giroux has written, “We have entered a period in which the war against youth, especially poor youth of color, offers no apologies because it is too arrogant and ruthless to imagine any resistance.” 

This time, however, their arrogance has gone to far.  Protests, Petitions, and boycotts have erupted across the country. 

Students and youth have already taken the lead on some of the most important actions in defense of immigrants.    

In an action with echoes to the Black students in Greensboro who sat in at segregated lunch counters 50 years ago, three courageous undocumented immigrant youth occupied the offices of Arizona’s Republican Senator John McCain on May 19th to demand that he back the DREAM Act–which would grant permanent citizenship to undocumented workers’ children if they completed two years of college. This action marked one of the first known instances of activists risking deportation for immigration reform legislation. 

On that same day during Michele Obama’s visit to a Maryland elementary school, a second grade girl admitted in their conversation that her mom was  undocumented, and challenged the First Lady:

“My mom … she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.”

If you can summon the courage of this second grader to speak truth to power you should come out to the national day of protest against Arizona’s “Juan Crow” laws on May 29th.  If your city isn’t one of the over 15 major Metropolitan areas boycotting Arizona, pressure your city council to join the movement. If you are a parent, go to your next PTA meeting and introduce a resolution against HB 2281 and SB 1070 and 1097.  If you are a teacher, go to your union meeting and do the same-then purchase “A People’s History for the Classroom” and teach the lesson on the U.S.-Mexico war that produced the current border that now brands so many Mexicans as “illegal”.   

The great historian and educator Howard Zinn gave some prophetic advice for educators in Arizona’s ethnic studies department in his last broadcast interview before he died on January 27, 2010:  

My advice for a future history teacher is, “Don’t obey the rules”….think outside the lines that are set for us by the school administration or the politicians. That’s the most important advice I can give to a young teacher about independence and courage and risk.  

Jesse Hagopian is a teacher in Seattle and a member of the rank-and-file union caucus Social Equality Educators (SEE).  You can contact Jesse at jessedhagopian@gmail.com

Hundreds of Union Janitors Fired Under Pressure From Feds May 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Economic Crisis, Immigration, Labor, Racism.
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Friday 07 May 2010

by: David Bacon, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

photo
(Photo: © David Bacon)

San Francisco, California – Federal immigration authorities have pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

ABM has been a union company for decades, and many of the workers have been there for years. “They’ve been working in the buildings downtown for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years,” said Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87. “They’ve built homes. They’ve provided for their families. They’ve sent their kids to college. They’re not new workers. They didn’t just get here a year ago.”

Nevertheless, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has told ABM that they have flagged the personnel records of those workers. Weeks ago, ICE agents sifted through Social Security records and the I-9 immigration forms all workers have to fill out when they apply for jobs. They then told ABM that the company had to fire 475 workers who were accused of lacking legal immigration status.

ABM is one of the largest building service companies in the country, and it appears that union janitorial companies are the targets of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement program. “Homeland Security is going after employers that are union,” Miranda charged. “They’re going after employers that give benefits and are paying above the average.”

Last October, 1,200 janitors working for ABM were fired in similar circumstances in Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs. Minneapolis janitors belong to SEIU Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco janitors to Local 87.

President Obama said sanctions enforcement targets employers “who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages – and oftentimes mistreat those workers.” An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claimed, “unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.”

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution. Javier Murillo, president of SEIU Local 26, said, “The promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won’t be fined. So this kind of enforcement really only hurts workers.”

ICE Director John Morton said the agency is auditing the records of 1,654 companies nationwide. “What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?” Miranda asked. “Why don’t they target employers who are not paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?”

The San Francisco janitors are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, which might charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to their employer, and even hold them for deportation? For workers with families, homes and deep roots in a community, it’s not possible to just walk away and disappear. “I have a lot of members who are single mothers whose children were born here,” Miranda said. “I have a member whose child has leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children here and go back to Mexico and wait? And wait for what?”

Miranda’s question reflects not just the dilemma facing individual workers, but of 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. Since 2005, successive congress members, senators and administrations have dangled the prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big increase in exactly the kind of enforcement now directed at 475 San Francisco janitors.

While the potential criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country.

President Obama, condemning Arizona’s law that would make being undocumented a state crime, said it would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” But then he announced his support for legislation with guest worker programs and increased enforcement.

The country is no closer to legalization of the undocumented than it was ten years ago. But the enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bills debated in Congress over the last five years have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush administration conducted a high-profile series of raids in which it sent heavily-armed agents into meatpacking plants and factories, held workers for deportation and sent hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security numbers.

After Barack Obama was elected president, immigration authorities said they’d follow a softer policy, using an electronic system to find undocumented people in workplaces. People working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired.

Ironically the Bush administration proposed a regulation that would have required employers to fire any worker who provided an employer with a Social Security number that didn’t match the SSA database. That regulation was then stopped in court by unions, the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. The Obama administration, however, is implementing what amounts to the same requirement, with the same consequence of thousands of fired workers.

Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the rhetoric used by the president and other Washington, DC, politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and the immigration proposals they make in Congress. “There’s a huge contradiction here,” she said. “You can’t tell one state that what they’re doing is criminalizing people, and at the same time go after employers paying more than a living wage and the workers who have fought for that wage.”

Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more critical. “Those bills in Congress, which are presented as ones that will help some people get legal status, will actually make things much worse,” she charged. “We’ll see many more firings like the janitors here, and more punishments for people who are just working and trying to support their families.”

Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even less promise of legalization, and more emphasis on punishment. The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the legalization program promised by the “bipartisan” Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement at the border and in the workplace must come before any consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.

“We have to look at the whole picture,” Saucedo urged. “So long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to come here, no matter how many walls we build. Instead of turning people into guest workers, as these bills in Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who don’t have papers, we need to help people get legal status, and repeal the laws that are making work a crime.” 

‘Los Suns’ Set Against Arizona’s Immigration Law May 6, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism, Sports.
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Published on Thursday, May 6, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

The Phoenix Suns basketball team takes a public stand against Arizona’s law that promotes racial profiling of immigrants

by Dave Zirin

A battle has been joined for the very soul of Arizona. On one side, there are the Minutemen, the craven state Republican lawmakers, Governor Jan Brewer, and the utterly unprincipled John McCain, all supporting SB 1070, a law that codifies racial profiling of immigrants in the state. On the other are the Sun Belt residents who protested on 1 May, the students who have engaged in walkouts, and the politicians and civic leaders calling for an economic boycott of their own state.

This battle has also been joined in the world of sport. On one side is Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Owned by state Republican moneyman Ken Kendrick, the team has drawn protestors to parks around the US. On the other side, we now have the NBA‘s Phoenix Suns. On Tuesday the news came forth that on Cinco de Mayo, the team would be wearing jerseys that say simply Los Suns. Team owner Robert Sarver said, after talking to the team, that this will be an act of sartorial solidarity against the bill. Their opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, have made clear that they support the gesture.

In a statement released by the team, Sarver said: “The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.”

He followed up the statement by saying to reporters: “I looked around our plane and looked at our players and the diversity in our organization. I thought we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA and we need to show support for that. As for the political part of that, that’s my statement. There are times you need to stand up and be heard. I respect people’s views on the other side but I just felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and make a statement.”

After Sarver spoke out, the team chimed in against the passage and signing of SB 1070. Two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, who in 2003 became the first athlete to go on record against the Iraq war, said: “I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”

All-Star power forward Amare Stoudamire, who has no political reputation, also chimed in saying: “It’s going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100%.”

After the story broke, I spoke on the phone with NBA Players Association president Billy Hunter about the Suns audacious move. “It’s phenomenal,” he said. “This makes it clear to me that it’s a new era. It’s a new time. Athletes can tend to be apolitical and isolated from the issues that impact the general public. But now here come the Suns. I would have expected nothing less from Steve Nash who has been out front on a number of issues over the years. I also want to recognize Amare. I know how strident Amare can be and I’m really impressed to see him channel his intensity. It shows a tremendous growth and maturity on his part. And I have to applaud Bob Sarver because he is really taking a risk by putting himself out there. I commend them. I just think it’s super.” He said that the union would have their own statement out by the end of the week.

This kind of political intervention by a sports team is without precedent and now every athlete and every team has an opening to stand up and be heard. Because when it’s all said and done, this isn’t just a battle for the soul of Arizona. It’s a battle for the soul of the United States. Here come the Suns indeed.

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

Reagan’s Refugees: Why Undocumented Migrants Have a Right to Work Here May 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Guatemala, Immigration, Mexico.
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Posted by Tikkun Daily at 2:41 pm
April 30, 2010

By David A. Sylvester. Cross-posted on Tikkun Daily.

Undocumented migrants have a right to work here because they deserve economic reparations for failed U.S. economic policies and disastrous military interventions.

Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. Hundreds of thousands march for immigration rights in Chicago, May 1, 2006. Credit: Alana Price. 

We hardly need another symptom of the spiritual and social bankruptcy of the system, but this new Arizona law targeting and criminalizing undocumented migrants is a good example. You might know that Gov. Jan Brewer signed last week a new law that broadens police power to stop anyone at anytime for virtually any reason simply for looking suspiciously like an undocumented immigrant. It is supposed to take effect in August, but this is unlikely since it is probably unconstitutional and will face a barrage of court challenges.

This Saturday, May Day, the traditional day for workers rights, more than 70 cities are planning protests against the law, and boycotts against Arizona are spontaneously spreading — as they should. Mexican taxi cab drivers are apparently refusing to pick up anyone from Arizona, and the Mexican government has issued a travel advisory warning Mexicans of the danger of traveling through Arizona. In California, pressure is growing to join the boycott.

In the midst of this uproar, few are asking one simple question: Why? Why do so many Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans enter the U.S. by the most dangerous and expensive route possible? Just imagine yourself in their shoes: You leave your family and neighborhood to make a dangerous trip, including a difficult trek for three nights across barren deserts, pay as much as $7,000 person to put yourself in the hands of an unofficial guide of questionable character. On the way, you are prey to exploitation, robbery and especially if you are a woman, to rape. Then you arrive to live in crowded apartments, hopefully with some family members or people you know, but under constant fear of arrest and deportation. If you’re lucky, you get the brass ring you’ve been reaching for: casual work cleaning homes, gardening or working odd jobs in construction for $8 to $10 an hour. If you’re unlucky, you might stand on street corners for hours waiting without work, vulnerable to the temptations of drugs and alcohol to numb despair.

Sound like a bargain? Now, consider that, in spite of this, you decide scrape together another $7,000 to bring the next family member. How can this make any sense? It does if you take a close look at what has happened to the economies and social fabric of the countries below the U.S. border. Most U.S. citizens have little idea of the devastation wrought by NAFTA in Mexico and by the murderous civil wars that Reagan Administration funded and supported during the 1980s has done to El Salvador and Guatemala.

This is the reality that none of the opponents of this “illegal” immigration want to face. And it is a reality that even the advocates of change have not fully articulated. In essence, the neoliberal economic policies of the so-called Washington consensus, including NAFTA, have plunged Mexico into an economic crisis in the countryside. More than 2 million agricultural workers have been forced off their land and have moved into urban areas that can’t absorb them. The undocumented workers from El Salvador and Guatemala, the two other main sources of migration into the U.S., are fleeing dysfunctional and oppressive social and economic systems maintained by U.S. military power and funding since Ronald Reagan and CIA director William Casey turned these small countries into demonstration projects for Cold War power. As a result of these interventions, the U.S. has blocked democratic social change in these countries, sustained the exploitative legacy of the conquista and kept the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of rich, uncontrolled oligarchies.

In other words, Arizona is facing “blowback,” the natural consequences of failed U.S. policies trumpeted by the Arizona-style conservatives. These undocumented workers are economic refugees fleeing from broken economic systems — and they have every right to work here to earn the living that they cannot earn in their home countries. It’s a form of economic reparations. And the situation would be considered ironic if it wasn’t so tragic: The more the economic policies fail, the more the poor of these countries are impoverished and the more they seek to survive in el Norte, the more the supposedly anti-government, free-market fundamentalists want to put the government squarely on the backs of and into the lives of individuals through increasingly repressive measures.

It isn’t just some kooky left-wing thinking to blame Washington’s policies for a large part of the problem. This is widely known among the academic researchers. I spoke with Marc Rosenblum and Miryam Hazan, two staff policy analysts at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. who have studied the issues. “NAFTA has supported a low-wage development model, and with Mexico’s implementation, you haven’t seen integrated development,” Rosenblum said. “Almost everybody will agree it has increased migration.”

The basic problem is that Mexican tariffs were lowered under NAFTA so that inexpensive corn and other agricultural products from U.S. agribusiness flooded Mexico and drove out up to 2.3 million small and medium-sized farmers. The idea was that they would move to the cities and provide the labor for new, more advanced industries to export. As Hazan describes it, the idea was to “modernize” the Mexican countryside.

The only problem is that such a plan depended on Mexico’s GDP growing at 6 percent to 7 percent — almost two-thirds of the rate of China’s growth. In fact, Mexico’s growth has stagnated under NAFTA at half the expected rate. Besides, it isn’t clear what these “new advanced industries” were supposed to be, except for the sweatshops and maquilladora along the U.S. border. Cheap labor is not what economists would call “a competitive advantage,” because there’s always another country with even cheaper labor to exploit.

Hazan has found that each year, Mexico adds 1 million new workers to its labor force — but only creates half a million jobs. This means that every year, half a million Mexicans must either enter what she calls “the informal economy” of low-wage work without benefits, the criminal and black market economy, or leave the country.

In fact, the criminal economy of the drug cartels, estimated at 2 percent of Mexico’s GDP, has become the new export-oriented industry. Again, for all the complaining about the Mexican drug traffickers, few people are wondering what kind of society has developed we’ve developed in the U.S. that generates such an incessant and growing demand for narcotics. Without the U.S. demand, the narcotraffickers would be largely out of business.

In El Salvador, there’s a separate problem stemming from the violence of the Reagan wars of the 1980s — and now compounded by the recent deportation of U.S. gang members back to El Salvador. Originally, they entered the U.S. as children with their undocumented parents, learned their gang skills in the U.S. and then once arrested, were deported back to El Salvador. As a result there’s been an explosion of gang violence in El Salvador.

Every week, I hear of new reports from Salvadoran friends: Six bodies showed up on the streets overnight in one small town, a man with an expensive car is kidnapped and killed, a schoolteacher threatened with a gun by a disgruntled parent of one of his students. During a visit three years ago, the student leader of the National University suddenly disappeared without explanation, and the newspapers were reporting a wave of killings of poor drug dealers in the slums as “social cleansing.” In addition, the phenomenon of femicide, the rape and murder of women, is not just a problem in Juarez or the border towns but has become a new problem throughout the countries. At one point, gang members had apparently infiltrated the telephone companies in El Salvador, found out who had been making calls to the U.S., then called those U.S. cell phone numbers with a simple message: Send us $500 within 24 hours or we’ll kill your family.

Guatemala is hardly any safer. A friend of mine who was a journalist in Guatemala City had to leave with his family after a government official took him aside and played for him tape recordings of his cell phone conversations with his sources — when he was inside his own home! Assassinations of the community leaders opposing destructive mining operations are common. At another point, a well-known TV reporter was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital.

From my experience, when I asked about this violence, many people there said it was difficult to know exactly what to blame: the economic crisis, the unresolved conflicts of the civil wars, the habit of violence from the wars or the lure of fast money in the drug trade, the unraveling of families as the more and more parents head north into the U.S. to work. All of it is connected to U.S. policies and actions, particularly the 1980s wars.

“There’s no question that the civil wars were a big source of initial migration of Central America into the U.S.” Rosenblum told me. The problem has become worse in El Salvador, he said, because besides the violence, it has embraced the neoliberal economic policies of corporate development that has led to highly unequal growth among the rich and poor.

These economic and social problems are precisely why the U.S. will never solve the problem by enforcement, no matter what kind of walls we build or border patrol we fund. The “push” out of these countries has become much greater than the “pull” of a better economy and growing social networks of migrants now living in the U.S.

The Arizona law shows how much enforcement alone sacrifices basic moral values. The law itself is chilling to read. In the tradition of the double-standard legal system pioneered during the war on terror under Bush, it broadens police powers and makes enforcement much more stringent for non-citizens than for citizens. It requires all immigrants to carry documents, such as driver’s license, to prove their immigration status whenever asked by police with a “reasonable suspicion” about their status. If you are undocumented, you can be charged with a misdemeanor, fined (between $500 on the first offense up to $2,500) jailed for six months under mandatory sentencing. Courts are prohibited from suspending or reducing sentences. It also turns citizens into vigilantes: anyone can sue a government for failing to enforce this law. It prohibits picking up day laborers on streets to hire, transporting anyone in your car without documents if you do so “recklessly disregarding” their immigration status. And it expands the powers of police to pose as workers when they investigate employers who might be hiring the undocumented workers.

Where’s the Tea Party when you need it? Isn’t there supposed to be a revolt brewing in this country in favor of a “constitutionally limited government”? And isn’t this the free market at work, with workers responding to the market signals of wages to meet the demand for labor where there is a lack of supply? Oh, I forgot: Free markets and limited government are good — unless they interfere with U.S. dominance and privilege.

It’s easy to slip into bitter rhetoric, but the hypocrisy of the debate has its own spiritual significance. The U.S. seems to be afflicted by a strange blindness that prevents it from understanding the full dimensions of the problem it has created. I think this blindness is a natural spiritual consequence of the idolization of power and wealth. In my opinion, one of the best analyses of this was in the Nobel Prize speech of British playwright Harold Pinter. He spoke about the relationship of truth and lies in art, and then connected this to the relationship of truth and lies to political power.

To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.

Then he focused how lies played a part in the brutality of the U.S. government’s treatment of Central America:

I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

Pinter pointed out that at the time the U.S. maintained 702 military bases in 132 countries and said:

The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.

This hypnosis isn’t just of the rest of the world; we’ve hypnotized ourselves so that we fail to understand the consequences of our actions. We’ve become like the violent drunk who trashes a motel room at night, then wakes up in the morning and demands to know who made such a mess.

In my brief search of the Web this week, I found only one person who had the courage to say aloud an obvious truth. Seth Minkoff of Somerville, Mass., a lone letter-writer to The Boston Globe of Somerville explained eloquently why the immigrants have a moral right to be here:

What goes unmentioned, however, is that some of us also feel that the fundamental aim of this law — enforcement of federal immigration regulations — is immoral.

A great many undocumented immigrants come here from countries that the United States has systematically devastated for generations by overthrowing democracy (as in Guatemala), sponsoring dictatorship and state terror (Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti), and invading and annexing territory (Mexico). Actions such as these have helped the United States to control a grossly outsized share of world resources.

Until the US share of world resources is proportional to its population, so-called illegal immigrants will have a moral claim second to none on the rights of US citizenship. Arizona’s new law, like the federal laws it seeks to enforce, is an assault on people’s basic right to feed and clothe their families – in other words, on their right to access their fair share of the planet’s wealth, the patrimony of humanity.

The readers of The Boston Globe, profiled for advertisers as highly educated and high-income, responded with such comments as:

What a complete F$%KING MORON. Does that moral right include stealing, bank robbery, perhaps rape and why not murder too.

And:

Shame on you Minkoff, go take your nonsense to Cuba or talk to Chavez and see how you make out.

And:

This letter sounds like it was written from some fatuous far left wing Chomskyan elitist nutty northeast college professor.

Seth, Harold Pinter’s got your back.

It would be helpful if more people had his back as well. But some of the opposition to the Arizona law is disappointing. For instance, U.S. Catholic bishops couched their opposition entirely in terms of pragmatics. Salt Lake City Bishop John Wester called the law “draconian,” as if problem is only its severity, not its inherent nature. He worried that the law could “possibly” lead to racial profiling when racial profiling is almost unavoidable in spite of hypocritical language to the contrary in the law. He worried about how immigrants might be “perceived and treated” and the impact on U.S. citizens who are unfairly targeted.

This statement should have been much stronger in the light of Roman Catholic tradition. Basic Catholic teachings evaluate the moral value of actions and distinguish between morally good and evil choices. Actions are “intrinsically evil” if they are “hostile to life itself.” The examples of these actions include the obvious, such as homicide and genocide but also include:

whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit;

whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit and not as free responsible persons;

all these and the like are a disgrace and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator (Encyclical Letter of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor IV, italics mine).

By this Catholic standard, the Arizona law is not only badly designed and unconstitutional but quite possibly an intrinsic evil. One can argue that the law is also an attempt to stop human smuggling and trafficking in women and children, but if this was its aim, it would have been designed differently. As written, it subjects immigrants to the torture of insecurity and offends their human dignity with arbitrary imprisonment and deportation.

In the end, the crisis can be solved until we face the spiritual roots of the lies, the violence and the self-righteous myths we tell ourselves. We need to understand and address the real nature of the problem if we want to solve it. I’ve always remembered the words of a friend of mine as we participated in a memorial service for Monseñor Oscar Romero in San Salvador: “We have to start telling ourselves the truth.”

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